“What’s you come here for, girl?”

“I need help…”

“Help?  Help with what?  You had a dream that now you can’t remember?  He, he!  Ain’t no one can help you with that, child.  You think you can be born again?  Born into a different world?  A different dream?  That’s somethin’ I can’t help you with.  I helped you be born in this world.  I named you in it, and this world don’t lead to no others…”

She’s feeding a rooster in a cage.  Her voice mixed with the loud clucks of hens, also in cages.  Their shadows and fallen feathers in candlelight.  Marie Toussaint’s cabin without electricity, deep back in the woods and swamp along the Sabine River.  And Bethany looks around standing at the doorway, at strange statues of contorted human figures, all of them with exaggerated genitalia and surrounded by the colored melted wax of candles that have burned away.   Marie wears a tall black hat with a white feather in the silver band, a red shawl about her shoulders—moth eaten and worn with holes.  The brim of her hat covers her eyes, and only when she looks up from her cages do you see the stars in them—the reflected candlelight of her darkened room.

“I gave you your name before your first and last, but that ain’t the name you hear calling you in your dream—is it, child?  I see a man in a car, smiling at you—the moon beyond his shoulder, his long white fingernails tight on the steering wheel…  You took a ride with this man, and now you want to know what does it profit you…  He, he!  What does it profit a man… like  Sissy Walker’s good book does says—ain’t that right, girl?  You want to know if that blood I done bathed you with when you were born will protect you from the earth making you a mother, as it’s done all mothers before you, but you don’t want to be a mother now—not yet at least.  You’re waiting for that other man—I see him holding a guitar with a bad string.  You waitin’ for that man… Yes… this rooster’s done crowed twice.  He done told me ‘bout the seed inside you tryin’ to deny… he, he!”

“Is he a good man?  The man that you see?”

“Good?  Bad?  That ain’t what you wonderin’ ‘bout.  You’re wonderin’ ‘bout the anger.  The anger you come from—that past I born you into…  Don lie to me, child.  You just wonderin’ ‘bout what’s in that suitcase of his.  Whether that man you seen in your dreams has a cold heart you can melt—some memory from his past related to yours.  With his same doubts on good and evil.  Even though you seen him be kind to the poor.  You seen him give change outa his pocket to children that are hungry.  You seen him help an old woman not feel so lonely with her husband dead.  You seen him make you laugh…  And he helps all kind of people—yes he does.  He loves people that love people—yes…  But what’s in that suitcase of his?  How does he get his money?  His power over you?  And you wonderin’ if he made a deal that you’ll have to make.  That dark lover you’s sees in your dreams, holdin’ that guitar with a bad string…  Ain’t no remedy for the danger, child.  The danger is part of the path.  Those many paths that lead to God, and that dark man in your dreams…  But I can help you.  I can help you with that seed you don’t want.  Just takes a drop of some bad medicine.  A medicine that’ll make you sick and lose that seed.  But when you take the medicine it stays inside with you.  It’ll stay in the name of your first child.  As penitence…  The poison will be your protector.  Because sees the poison just don’t only do harm.  The poison protects your character—your free will.  If you couldn’t choose to take this poison you wouldn’t be in this world.  It’ll teach you to be alert and respect what’s around you so when you do make that choice—that choice to have a child—you will know at what cost you will have to defend it.  You’ll be a woman.  A woman that knows a good man when you’s see one…  You go on now.  I’ve done all I can do for you.”

There’s a bottle of rum next to the rooster cage.  Marie Toussaint mumbles a chant that sounds like French to Bethany, but she can’t really be sure.  She watches as the old voodoo woman takes a swig of the rum and spits it on the head of the rooster.  She watches as it prances about its cage, angry at being wet.  Marie hands her a small dark bottle with a rubber dropper.  She closes her hand around it and sees Marie smile, her teeth yellowed and rotten.

“Thank you…”

“Hah!  You thankin’ me?  Girl you still got a lot to learn ‘bout people…  You mind yourself now—hear?”

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